Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas Summary and Analysis of The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish (Section Two)

Timothy Cavendish has had a mini-stroke. He is unable to move or care for himself and relies on the assistance of the caretakers of Aurora House. His mind struggles against his body, making little progress. It takes weeks for him to regain mobility and in the mortifying process he becomes depressed but never gives up. He suggests that when his memoir becomes a film, the days of his recovery are to be shot as a training sequence leading up to a big fight at the finale.

December arrived and with it the knowledge that Cavendish was on his own. No one was looking for him. He participated in the activities of the nursing home and integrated himself among “the Undead” as he called the residents. Walking now with a cane he wandered the halls of Aurora House and read Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery at night. He edited the novel with the intention to publish it but wanted to change the insinuation that Luisa Rey was the reincarnation of Robert Frobisher, Sixsmith’s former lover. He thought it was too unrealistic. He too had a birthmark under his arm which a lover had once referred to as “Timbo’s Turd” (357) but certainly not a comet. He was knew he was not a reincarnation of anyone else.

“One overcast afternoon while the Undead were in rehearsal for the Big Sleep…” (358) Cavendish made the acquaintances of Ernie Blacksmith, a Scottish jack-of-all-trades, his girlfriend, Veronica Costello, a once famous hat-maker, and Mr. Meeks, who did not speak outside of baby noises and his favorite phrase “I know!” and who kept lookout for the group while they drank liquor in the boiler room. Cavendish was apprehensive of Ernie, having nothing in common with him but found Veronica charming if not well read. Ernie advised him against trying to escape and told him about the security cameras and electric lock on the gate. Cavendish denied he was thinking of escape and related his tale of how he got to Aurora House and was relieved that Ernie and Veronica believed him.

The raised voice of a man outside the boiler room door interrupted their conversation and they overheard John Hotchkiss yelling about his mother, who was a resident. Veronica explained that Mrs. Hotchkiss, John’s mother, had hid the family jewelry in a box and buried it when she found out she was being taken to Aurora House and had refused to tell anyone, especially her greedy son, where she had hidden it. Ernie made the keen observation that Hotchkiss always left his keys in the ignition of his Range Rover whenever he came to visit his mother.

Thoughts of escape still fresh in his mind, Cavendish tries to smuggle a secret letter to Mrs. Latham, passed on by a visiting priest but Noakes got a hold of it and destroyed it. Later Cavendish used the phone at receptionist’s desk to call his sister-in-law and former lover, Georgette, and asked her to tell Denny to get him out. Georgette, who was not in her own right mind, told Cavendish that Denny was dead.

The next day Cavendish endured a public shaming in the dining room led by Noakes for using the telephone. His temper on the rise he lashed out at Ernie and was on the outs with the boiler room crowd for days. He did not want to believe Ernie when he was told that Noakes had instigated his stroke by slipping drugs into his food as punishment for trying to escape.

“I made it to Boxing Day because I was too miserable to hang myself” (373). Depressed and lonely Cavendish knocked on the boiler room door after a few days of sulking and apologized to Ernie. After some convincing Cavendish enlisted Ernie’s help in coming up with an escape plan. As repayment Cavendish had to take Ernie and Veronica with him when he escaped Aurora House.

They enacted their plan on December 28th. Using a cell phone Ernie stole from one of the staff members, Cavendish disguised his voice and called John Hotchkiss pretending he was a doctor. He told Hotchkiss his mother was dying and she wanted to tell him where she had hid the jewels. Hotchkiss said he would be there in half an hour and hung up. Next Cavendish hid in Mr. Meeks room across the hall from his own room. Ernie, pretending distress, told Noakes that Cavendish had died in his sleep. Noakes went into his room and Cavendish, leaping from his hiding place, locked her in.

Veronica greeted John Hotchkiss and his wife when they arrived, leaving his Range Rover parked near the front gate. Cavendish rushed toward the car and got in followed soon by Ernie and Veronica. After a short scuffle with Hotchkiss and Mr. Withers who tried to stop them from leaving, Cavendish rammed the front gates and headed north. He brushed off a nagging thought that he had already lived this moment many times before. Euphoric with joy, the three escapees headed toward Scotland and freedom. They were pleasantly surprised to find Mr. Meeks hiding in the back of the car.

The former residents arrived at a pub called the Hanged Edward and went inside for drinks. A large crowd of Scottish football fans were gathered watching a big match between Scotland and England. It was then that Cavendish remembered he had left the map, which he had clearly labeled with their escape route, on his bed with Noakes, trapped in his room.

Sure enough the doors banged open and Mr. Withers suddenly appeared with John Hotchkiss. Miraculously Mr. Meeks bellowed for the TV crowds’ attention and told the Scottish patrons in a clear ringing voice that Withers and his fellows were trampling on his rights as a Scotsman. Withers made the mistake of speaking, revealing his southern English accent and chaos erupted in the pub as the football fans began to brawl with Withers and Hotchkiss. Cavendish and his friends made a quick exit, heading farther north.

Speaking directly to the reader Cavendish reveals he is currently living in a comfortable hotel in Edinburgh, writing his memoir and reeling in royalties from Knuckle Sandwich which is being made into a film in Hollywood. Cavendish thinks his memoir would make a great film as well and vows to write the screenplay. He has also been sent the second Luisa Rey Mystery and iss eager to find out what happens next.

The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish Section Two Analysis

Cavendish finds solace in reading and later editing Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery. The reader has had the unique experience of having already read Luisa’s story in the previous section of Cloud Atlas. It’s appearance in manuscript form within Cavendish’s section; however, presents a problem within the novel’s overall timeline. Luisa’s story takes place in California in the 1970s. Cavendish’s story, likewise, takes place in either the late twentieth century or early twenty-first century. Their timelines intersect. Since the connecting thread between sections is the reincarnation of the main characters as evidenced by the comet-shaped birthmark, how can both Luisa and Cavendish be reincarnations of one another? Even if Luisa died in the 1970s and her soul was reincarnated after her death, Cavendish would have already entered adulthood well before that time, no matter the exact year of his storyline.

As with Luisa’s section, Cavendish’s time period is not apparent at first glance. Cavendish states early on that he is in his sixties but does not give a definitive year as to when his “ordeal” takes place. Hidden in the details of his trip from London to Hull are various clues as to when the action of the plot occurs. For example the mention of a desktop computer and word processor at his office in London indicate a late twenty-century or early twenty-first century timeframe especially in connection with Minesweeper, a popular computer game included in most operating systems for home use especially in the 1990s. Another indication of a late twentieth or early twenty-first century timeframe are the automatic ticket dispensers at King’s Cross Station which were first put into use in the 1980s and are still in use today. Various other clues and indicators like the security cameras at Aurora House and Mr. Hotchkiss’ Range Rover, etc point to the suggested timeframe of the 1990s or early 2000s proving that Luisa and Cavendish could not exist in the same time period and are not reincarnations of one another.

David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas stated in a 2010 interview for the Paris Review that only five of the six main characters are reincarnations of one another. Cavendish, who lacks the tell-tale comet-shaped birthmark and whose storyline intersects with Luisa’s is therefore not one of the reincarnations. The theme of reincarnation is treated differently in this section as it is cast aside and deemed inferior by Cavendish who proposes it does not belong in Luisa’s story and is an unnecessary plot point. Does the reader feel the same? Mitchell’s metaphysical commentary through the narration of Timothy Cavendish suggests that he is aware that the overall theme of reincarnation is a weak thread to tie the sections together and subdues criticism of the novel by pointing out it’s faults within its own narration.

Interestingly Mitchell wrote the character of Timothy Cavendish for his first novel, Ghostwritten published in 1999 by Hodder and Stoughton. Cavendish is not a main character in Ghostwritten but connects the central storylines through his interactions with the other characters. Like Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten is written a series of interconnected stories set in various locations but is less ambitious in scope. Cavendish’s featured appearance occurs in the London portion of the novel where he meets the main character of that section, Marco, at his publishing house. There they talk about an autobiography that Marco is ghostwriting for one of Cavendish’s clients. Cavendish, whose own section is written as a memoir, tells Marco that all autobiographies are exaggerations of the truth, an interesting insight for any reader of Cloud Atlas.

Just as Luisa’s section is an exaggerated form of pulp fiction, Cavendish’s memoir and later his film are also embellishments on the truth: yet both are influential to other characters within the novel. For example, Luisa’s own story of uncovering the corruption at Seaboard Inc. is an inspiration to Cavendish who wishes to expose the cruelty of Aurora House. Similarly Sonmi-451 finds inspiration in Cavendish’s escape for freedom as she chronicles her life story to the Archivist after she is freed from Papa Song’s. The underlining message within Cloud Atlas is not only the connection between the lives of the characters, a microscopic representation of the commonality of all life but also a reflection on the influences of art/fiction in the essential development of one’s own life story or journey.